The Canaries avenged their defeat in the corresponding fixture in Warwickshire by the same score and as well as that maintained a clean sheet for the third successive game. Although not quite as comfortable a win as the midweek cup match against Royston, it was comfortable enough and the win was thoroughly deserved.
There was a spring in the home side’s step on this Spring-like day of sunshine and no wind, and indeed it was a fillip to beat a team that was third in the League table and vying for a play-off slot. Hitchin began well with an immediate eye on attack, even if met with competent defending. Stratford responded with a couple of forays along the left, one of which brought a corner, cut out by Michael Johnson. His counterpart looked like he was adorned with a Hitchin home kit of yesteryear.
What I will charitably describe as not one of his best shots. Alfie Cue announced his presence with a blast over the cross bar by some distance. Galliford’s sixth minute corner was short to Cue and Galliford encroached until cue won another corner. This brought a blocked shot from Josh Bickerstaff. Stratford again tried it on the left but a goal-kick was the result of that foray.
In a small unpeopled area some small boys were having a kick about and I was like an ultima thule, or possible a goal post in their endeavours. They were kitted up in Hitchin and Arsenal shirts and the language used would have distressed their tender mothers.
Draper had picked up a loose ball, which was quickly reclaimed. Galliford’s cross was initially cut out but a second launch saw a tolerable header from Cue that took a deflection for a corner. This led to a shot from the industrious Michael Cain that was a trifle off-target. Stratford were busy defending and outstanding was Jamie McAteer, who later prevented a goal with an off the line clearance.
A half-chance for Stratford was followed by more pressure from Hitchin, who were beginning to dominate territorially. Cue’s forward ball to Penfold was smartly cut out by Skendi. Cox on the right provided a chance and a shot from Nabil Shariff that was gathered comfortably by Johnson. Dan Creaney was getting some significant touches and Issac was always looking for a chance to cross. Draper’s cross was cleared off the lne following Cue’s shot. Cue employed the long throws again and Cain had an unsuccessful pop. Lewis Ferrell’s back header went wide of the near post – but it was all good stuff, really. Lewis Wilson played a good defensive and midfield role, and Stratford did counter when they could. Galliford won a corner on twenty-three minutes and this saw Webb flick on with style but not accuracy.
Another Galliford corner was adequately defended, and Draper had a shot blocked by McAteer. A Galliford free kick was headed away. Issac’s cross brought a shot from Skendi. Cue’s long throw almost fell to Draper and I must say I like this tactic – it will pay off eventually and probably at a pivotal moment. Draper won a free-kick on the edge of the area, but Draper headed over. More inconclusive corners came from Hitchin who may well have paid for such profligacy.
A game is often defined by significant moments and there was a timely reminder of fragility when Kynan Issac took the ball along the left flank as we drifted into stoppage time in the first half, he grabbed the highlight with a blast of a shot that struck the underside of the bar. I was at the other end but the VAR – that is the Voice Against Reason claimed that the ball did not cross the line. Happily for Hitchin the officials concurred.
To use the cliché – this effort was against the run of play but had that one gone in, we might well have had a very different game on our hands. In the boardroom I was asked again by Stratford officials ‘Were you once with Dunstable?’ I explained my change of allegiance, but it was nice to be remembered and even better that they understood my reasons. Hitchin had edged it without penetration as yet but we were confident.
There were no substitutions at the commencement of the second period, but we anticipated that that would soon change. Hitchin had regulars Ezra Forde and Scott Belgrove on the bench, as well as the solid Jay dowie. Stratford also had the proven Will Grocott and Wilson Carvalho.
Stratford began the half quite strongly but could not sustain this and as frustration grew they were guilty of some over robust challenges, resulting in cautions. As I settled for the action, a diminutive Hitchin supporter greeted me (‘Hello, Mr Pipeman- we need to keep it on the floor’). He was essentially right, of course. He pointed out the height of McAteer and Jordan Williams and suggested that aerial combat would fall on stony ground. Size was an obvious issue with him. What else I recall was his spontaneous dance (with an unseasonal rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ with altered lyrics when Hitchin scored). I really enjoy those moments, real support and real appreciation. It is gold dust.
When Hitchin scored. Well, thereby hangs a tale or tail. It was an ironic replication of Isaac’s thunderous strike in stoppage time at the tail end of the first period. The encroaching Galliford was the man involved. We had played sixty-three minutes and he had a clear chance. He let fly and the bar shook, the ball fell downwards and the assistant referee on the nearer side immediately signalled a goal. All but one Stratford players did not dispute the decision, which is a positive sign. I must confess that from my position, not the best, considering – it seemed to me, that the ball did not cross the line but the spontaneous decision of the assistant referee assuaged any feelings of guilt. The little fellow jigged his jig and sang his song. At any rate it was a deserved lead on the flow of play. But of course it was but a slender lead and could be cancelled in a moment of inspiration, which, in the event, did not come.
Stratford, by their own high standards were disappointing. Their one chance of a successful strike came late in the game, when substitute Wilson Carvalho sent a free kick in that threatened to shave some paint off the cross bar. Issac also had a shot earlier that brought a corner, but the Warwickshire side were plainly not at their best today.
The half was notable for some flowing Hitchin moves where with one attack there were consecutive chances for Galliford, Draper and Cue, defended, but with a suggestion of frailty. As always, a solitary goal lead is fragile in itself, but it was not until about ten minutes from time that Hitchin added a second and more or less secured the points.
This was a well-constructed, thoughtful goal. Praise goes to Galliford for his awareness. He could have had a shot himself but instead, and unselfishly he passed the ball back to the encroaching substitute Ezra Forde who was able to pick his spot with ease to double the lead. Hitchin were now rampant rather than couchant and the garnering of three more points was vital in being able to climb a place or two in the table as the season enters its critical phase.
The next league match is at Top Field on Saturday 2nd March when Hitchin will attempt to do the double over Rushall Olympic, and only one thing is certain – the weather will not be as bad as it was when we contest the game at their place.
Michael Johnson, Jack Green, Noah Chesmain. Josh Bickerstaff, Daniel Webb, captain, cautioned, Lewis Ferrell, Michael Cain, Harry Draper, cautioned, Morgan Penfold, (Ezra Forde, 64 – GOAL 81 MINUTES), Isaac Galliford, GOAL 63 MINUTES, Alfie Cue, (Jay Dowie, 69).
Substitutes not used – Max Ryan, Scott Belgrove and Edwin Mensah.
Laurence Bilboe, Chris Cox, cautioned, Kynan Issac, cautioned, (Kian Williams, 69), , James Fay, captain, Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson, Albi Skendi, cautioned, Dan Creaney, Ross Oulton, cautioned, (Will Grocott,,74), Nabil Sharriff, (Wilson Carvalho, 66).
Substitutes not used – Ross Ethridge, GK, Tom Fishwick.
REFEREE: Mr S Bates, assisted by Mr M Mitchell and Mr M Hopton.
REPORT BY PIPEMAN